A journey to the land of runners
Running coach Christian Pflügl and his insight into the life of Kenyan runners
One of the greatest differences between Kenyan and European runners is the genetic predisposition. The lactic acid produced when the muscles are under strain forms very slowly in Kenyans’ blood, which means that their muscles do not tire so quickly. In addition, African athletes work hard and have a great deal of patience in their training and training system, as Christian Pflügl learned.
What is running training like in Kenya?
What makes Kenyan runners different from other runners?
The day begins at 5.50 am, you put on your running shoes and set off for the running track in Iten, at the heart of the Rift Valley, the global capital of running, also known as the “home of champions”. Everybody who is anybody, from 800-meter runners to marathon runners, trains and lives here. Training takes place here daily in joint running groups, except for on Sunday, so-called church day. Even after the first few steps Christian Pflügl runs, he already feels much faster, driven by the atmosphere, even if that might not be the case. So that the Kenyans do not lose their equilibrium mentally, the training is structured in the same way everyweek, with the exception of Tuesdays and Thursdays–the interval days. Here, training is not used for fun or as a break. According to the motto “running is not a joke”, running training is a survival job for every individual and this work is taken seriously!
Long run day - the last day of training
Saturday is the last and therefore the most important and hardest training session of the week. This day is eagerly awaited all week and the tension among the athletes can be clearly felt. At 6.00 am, various training groups begin the Long Run at different meeting points. There are 50 to 200 runners in each running group. Coaches and managers sit in support vehicles, which stay with the top groups. Dozens of runners in their colourful sports vests transform Iten into a wonderfully multicoloured world with the rising sun.
But the Long Run is no picnic
It is motivation and long-distance running training in its purest form. The training has to be hard and has to hurt–“you must feel something”, the Kenyans say.The training goal of the Long Run is between 25 and 45 km at a high pace, which is a little slower than marathon speed. It is easy to imagine that a run like this atan elevation of 2,400 m and in alpine terrain, where there is more uphill than downhill, is not at all easy.
Nevertheless, the Kenyans run unusually quickly right from the beginning, and they finish at a pace of 3 min/km and quicker. The leading group already emerges after the first few kilometres. If one runner happens to not be having a very good day, however, the Kenyans do not let this spoil the mood. The runners’ attitude is always positive, and they declare that a run like this is "no probelm", one of the Kenyans' favourite phrases.
There is one thing the Kenyans do not forget with all this training, however - recovery. The fastest runners in the world focus on sufficient sleep, more relaxed training sessions in between, rest days, mental strength and a healthy diet, and they avoid additional physical activities, and listen to their bodies.